White House Says Deadly Strike In Rafah Won’t Shift U.S. Policy Toward Israel

The White House said Tuesday it had no plans to change its policy toward Israel after an airstrike killed dozens of Palestinian civilians in Rafah this weekend.

“It just happened,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said during a news briefing.“The Israelis are going to investigate it. We’re going to be taking great interest in what they find in that investigation. And we’ll see where it goes from there.”

The attack hit Palestinians who were sheltering in tents, fleeing violence amid Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas who believed they were in a so-called safe zone not under evacuation orders. Israel said later the target had been a Hamas compound and that it had used “precise munitions” in the attack. But Gaza’s health ministry said the strike sparked a deadly fire that killed at least 45 people and wounded nearly 250 others, including children.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday the strike was a “tragic mishap,” and while the White House said the killings were “devastating,” officials said Israel had not flouted President Joe Biden’s warning from earlier this month.

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment in an adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Tuesday.
Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel’s bombardment in an adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Tuesday.

via Associated Press

The strike came after the president warned Netanyahu that he would stop some arms transfers if the country proceeded with a full offensive in Rafah, saying doing so would cross a “red line” the U.S. could not accept. The White House has pressured Israel to protect civilians as it targets the area and worked to broker a ceasefire deal, but those plans have not materialized.

“I have made it clear to Bibi and the war cabinet they’re not going to get our support if, in fact, they’re going into these population centers,” Biden said on CNN in early May.

The White House said it believed no such line had been crossed on Sunday and stressed any operation in Rafah was on a much smaller scale than other devastating incursions in other parts of Gaza.

“We still don’t believe that a major ground operation in Rafah is warranted,” Kirby said. “We still don’t want to see the Israelis, as we say, smash into Rafah with large units over large pieces of territory. We still believe that, and we haven’t seen that at this point.”

A second bout of shelling and airstrikes killed at least 37 people outside of Rafah on Tuesday, the same area where the initial attack took place.